The winter months have soon come round! The dark nights are creeping in and for, most of us, that means our evening commute is in the dark. So, what does that mean to us long-term drivers and to learner drivers alike? How do we drive safe in the dark? What stays the same and what do we need to think about adapting, when compared to daytime driving? How can you overcome anxiety when driving at night? I have a great selection of advice that should help you both see better whilst driving and be seen by others.
See and be seen!
I can’t emphasise how important it is that you can not only SEE, but you can be SEEN too! They are not the same thing and, as drivers, we have a responsibility to ensure we are covering both. Here are some tips on how to be safe, sensible, and prepared for night-time driving, by seeing and being seen:
Ensure all your windows are clean and clear- dirt build up on your windows can be disastrous at night. It creates a grime film on your windows, making it difficult to see through in the dark and it’s even worse when someone shines their headlights on it! Keep them clean, inside, and out. De-mist all windows before driving. Quite often we will get into a cold car in the winter months and fog will start to mist up the windows straight away, due to the change in temperatures rapidly changing. Use your de-mister to clear all windows effectively before driving.7
This one comes under both being seen and seeing! Headlights are important to ensure that you are visible to other road users. Before driving at night ensure you know where all your headlight switches are, the difference between each light setting and which one is needed for which occasion. Incorrect use of lights can cause issues to other road users, for example, if you’ve switched on your main beam instead of your dipped headlights! The main beam can be really dazzling to other road users and cause them to temporarily lose sight due to the strength of the bulbs and position of the beams. If you’re unsure when to use your lights, please refer to the highway code or speak with a professional, like your driving instructor, who can help to guide you. Headlights are also important for us to see, they help light up the area in front of your car, enabling you to see things otherwise hidden in the dark. Ensure all bulbs are working, just because you’ve switched them on, doesn’t mean the bulb is working. Keep all light casings clean and clear of dirt and check for cracks or defects.
Protecting your eyes for safer driving
Regular eye tests should be made for everyone, not only for your eye health but to ensure you remain within the legal limits required to drive. Eye health is so important at night when shadows and darkness obscure what you are reading on the road. Your eyes, observation and planning could be the thing that keeps you safe on the road at night. If you’re tired, take regular breaks. Quite often our eyes are the first thing to feel fatigued when we are tired!
If you wear glasses, ensure they are clean, like the windscreen, dirty glasses can cause a fog when headlights shine on them, giving you bigger blind spots than necessary. Night-time lenses are available out there, but do your research and ensure a good fit for you. Some people have reported that they didn’t help and, in some cases, made it worse!
Ensure you protect your visibility – avoid looking directly into oncoming lights and if you are temporarily blinded by lights or someone’s main beam, then consider pulling over until your eyes readjust before continuing your journey! Re-adjusting your rear-view mirror can help with glare from behind.
Turn down internal lights
Consider dimming down control panels within your car. The dashboard, control panels and media panels within your car often have an array of lights! From the speedo to the satnav and everything in between. Most modern cars have so many gadgets and buttons! At night these can seem overly bright! Consider dimming them down, so that the glare from within the car doesn’t distract you from what’s going on outside of your car. Bright dashboard lights can also cause eye fatigue but, awkwardly, so can having them too dim. Find the right balance so that you can see them comfortably without straining but they aren’t too bright.
Be extra vigilant and aware of others
As drivers, we need to be extra vigilant when dealing with pedestrians and cyclists at night. Many could be wearing dark clothes and their whereabouts could be greatly reduced to you. Be extra safe coming up to junctions, pedestrian crossings or when passing busy places like shops or leisure centres. We all have a responsibility to keep each other safe. Bad weather could mean that pedestrians and cyclists are hiding under big coats and umbrellas, therefore less aware of the things going on around them.
Breakdowns and emergencies
Breaking down at any time can be worrying but breaking down at night can seem worse! Visibility to other road users may be reduced and you could end up in a more dangerous situation!
Preparation is key! Your car should always be stocked with breakdown essentials, for any time of the day but some key bits could keep you extra safe at night! Here are my top essential items:
- A torch could provide valuable light when needed.
- A blanket could keep you warm both inside or outside the car if you need to exit your vehicle.
- A mobile phone and charger, you might not always have access to emergency telephones.
- Water, ensuring you can keep yourself hydrated whilst you await rescue.
- Ice scraper and cleaning cloths to keep the windows clear when needed.
Always get yourself to a safe place, even if that means leaving your car. If necessary, contact the police and let them know if your car is an obstruction and a danger to the road and other road users.
Planning and anticipation
Planning and anticipation are key tools to any driver, at any time. At night, they can be the tools that keep you extra safe. Driving at night can make things seem different to how they are during the day. Lights are dazzling, people are hard to see and sometimes things like judging peoples speed can be distorted. So, how can we keep ourselves safe using our planning and anticipation skills:
- Look, Assess and Decide – look well ahead of you, scan junctions more thoroughly and make safe decisions. If in any doubt, slow down and assess the situation before committing.
- Be extra careful around junctions that you know well. We can sometimes get sucked into a false sense of safety around areas we know well, but things can be and are different in the dark!
- Be careful around junctions you don’t know! Road markings and signs might not be as clear in the dark, sometimes they aren’t that great in the daylight! Be prepared to stop and give way.
- Decisions should be made on what you can see, what you can’t see (anticipating what might be round the corner, for example) and what you can expect other road users to do at any given moment.
- Defensive driving – always preparing for things that might happen, rather than just reacting when they do. This way we are ready and able to deal with things as they unfold and if they don’t, then great! Let’s not get complacent though, just because there wasn’t anything around the bad bend last time you took it a bit fast and wide, doesn’t mean you’ll be that lucky again!
- Places and times to be extra vigilant – in the winter months, we can be in darkness from around 3.30 pm in some places in the U.K meaning that we are driving at school run time and during rush hours. These times and places require extra attention. Are all pedestrians and cyclists visible to you? Are all drivers able to see you? Are you able to see them? Things like parked cars that can hide all sorts of hazards at any time of the day become even more dangerous to us. They hide the young child waiting between them to cross, or obscure the visibility of the car waiting to pull out of the next junction…and if you can’t see them, guess what? They can’t see you! Don’t assume you have priority therefore, people know you’re there, they might not be able to see you!
Anxiety and fear of driving at night
For many learner drivers, the first time they drive at night is once they’ve passed their test and are alone. Imagine starting your lessons in Spring and never having a lesson later than 4 pm in the daytime, then passing your test in September or October! You’ve done ALL your driving in daylight, then all of a sudden you’re plunged into darkness in the rush hour commute from work as a new driver! I can see where the anxiety comes from! Here are some tips on how to deal with the anxiety of night driving:
- Your first night journey should be a local and relatively small trip, maybe to a relative’s house or the local shops.
- Leave yourself plenty of time for your journey.
- Ensure your car is in tip-top shape.
- Take a trusted friend or relative with you on the first night-time drive.
- Maybe consider a couple of extra lessons with your instructor to gain knowledge, experience, and confidence with driving at night.
- Consider your own emotions, thought and feelings- what is the trigger to the anxiety? Work on yourself to gain confidence.
- Fully prepare yourself for the extra dangers of night-time driving. Remember those planning and anticipation skills you’ve been learning? Now is the time to really accelerate them, stay sensible to stay safe!
Driving at night can be a great experience. I really like to drive at night. There is no reason why it can’t be just as safe as driving during the day. As a driver, you have a responsibility to the road, other road users and yourself to remain safe. Doing a couple of precautionary checks, driving with anticipation and care and being prepared for all eventualities can mean it can not only be a safe but enjoyable experience. Living in the U.K, let’s face it, it’s a necessity come wintertime. We all have a responsibility for safer roads.